Studying law at CDU

When Australia’s first fully interactive online Bachelor of Laws degree was launched by Charles Darwin University in 2003, ‘our aim was to provide an external law degree program tailored to students living in regional and remote areas of Australia’s north,’ said Ken Parish. ‘What we didn’t realise was that we had also designed an educational product that would prove enormously appealing to prospective students throughout Australia and even overseas.’ Eight years later, the rapidly growing law degree program has online students from the far-flung destinations of England, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, China and the West Indies.

You can study law at CDU either as an internal or external student

For most purposes we make no distinction between the two modes of study:

  • Internal students may attend online tutorials and catch up with lectures or seminars by viewing the multimedia recorded lecture presentations or downloading an audio-only MP3 version for use on your iPod or other mobile device.
  • External students may attend on-campus lectures or tutorials if you wish.

Most units/subjects include:

  •  A pre-recorded lecture topic presentation (usually in Adobe Presenter format) each week;
  •  A one hour live lecture or seminar which is usually “simulcast” both on-campus and to students online in our Blackboard Collaborate voice and video-enabled virtual classroom;
  • A one and a half hour tutorial, which students may attend either on-campus or online.

Lectures and learning materials

CDU’s external law program was Australia’s first ‘paperless’ law degree, delivered entirely via the Internet. ‘We set out to use the latest Internet-based technologies to teach students by the most powerful, flexible and convenient methods,’ Ken said. ‘Lecture notes, tutorial problems, quizzes and all other learning materials are delivered on the web rather than in paper or CD formats.’ Lectures are digitally recorded and uploaded in in combined multimedia (Adobe Presenter) as well as ‘streaming’ audio format, together with Powerpoint presentations, so that online students listen to the same lecture and watch the same presentation as internal students. ‘In many ways they’re in an even better position, because they can ‘attend’ the lecture at any time (even in the middle of the night) to suit a busy work or home schedule, and listen to it as many times as they want to assist with understanding and revision,’ Ken said. ‘They can pause the recording whenever they like and make a cup of coffee or answer the phone — something that just isn’t possible when one attends a lecture on campus.’

Tutorials

CDU’s tutorial format is just as powerful. Students can log onto weekly Internet-based tutorials and speak in ‘real time’ with tutors and other students. Tutorials take place in dedicated voice and video-enabled Blackboard Collaborate classrooms equipped with an inbuilt web browser, digital whiteboard and the ability to display and share access to a wide range of documents. ‘In many ways it’s an even more powerful learning tool than footing along to a tutorial on campus,’ Ken added. Students simply log on each week at scheduled tutorial time-slots (most but not all during the evening) from wherever they happen to be in Australia or the world and ‘workshop’ questions and problems with each other and their tutor using a headset microphone and webcam. ‘The system, once installed, is so simple to use and almost foolproof.’

‘As far as we know, CDU’s law program was the first in Australia to provide external students access to ‘live’ tutorials,’ Ken said. ‘Even now at many other law schools, external students are mailed learning materials on CD and study in an isolated context, or at most, use text-based discussion boards — a facility CDU also utilises.’

Best practice in teaching and learning

Educational research shows that students learn and retain more information when teaching is fully interactive. The ability to ‘brainstorm’ and ‘workshop’ problems live online with their tutor and other students are key features of CDU’s external law degree program, facilitating teaching by a true Socratic method.

The CDU law program strongly emphasises access to library resources for remote and regional students. ‘We subscribe to a huge range of online Australian and international law reports, scholarly journals, subject-based ‘text books’ and current awareness services,’ Ken said. ‘In addition, thousands of additional journal articles and textbook chapters are scanned and made available via the University’s E-Reserve system.’ Ken Parish said the online law program ends the isolation usually experienced by people studying externally at Australian universities. ‘You can’t quite share a beer at the Uni Bar or a café latte at the Schuberts coffee shop, but you can do just about everything else.

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